INTERVIEW: SHAINA SHEAFF OF HELP-PORTRAIT: DENTON

  Wedding and portrait photographer Shaina Sheaff 

Wedding and portrait photographer Shaina Sheaff 

Y'all know those 'grams of jazz and tacos we include on our Monday mornin' What We Did posts? Most of those belong to photographer Shaina Sheaff. Sheaff actually has a whole bunch of awesomeness on her plate at the moment. In addition to her wedding photography and portraiture, Sheaff is working on bringing Denton its first ever Help-Portrait event (which you can read more about in the interview). Read on to find out why she thinks Denton is a black hole and why she has a barbie shoe and tiny plastic lizard in her camera bag!


WDDI: Hey Shaina! Tell us a little about yourself and your history with Denton.

Shaina Sheaff: I'm a bit of a townie. My parents moved back to Denton when I was six months old, and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to say that I was raised here. I spent the majority of my childhood doing things like playing hide-and-seek all over UNT's campus, being afraid of the people who wore all black and hung out in Kharma Cafe, and watching my dad play chess with some of the Brave Combo guys at The Flying Tomato late at night. My mom and I moved to Muenster, TX for my high school years, but I came right back to Denton after a couple of years of college. This city is a black hole. You can leave, but you always end up coming back for more if you really love it.

Like most of us who have been here a while, I've had a love/hate relationship with Denton for years. Right now, I'm in the middle of being head-over-heels for this town. The creative community is thriving, people are collaborating together...it reminds me a lot of the Denton of my childhood because the art seems to have become more organic over the last few years. I keep saying that it's a great time to be a Dentonite, and it truly is - I'm excited about where our city is headed and I can't imagine ever wanting to move and raise my daughter anywhere else.

What is Help-Portrait?

Help-Portrait is a non-profit organization started by Jeremy Cowart five years ago this December. The idea is that groups of photographers, hairstylists, makeup artists, and volunteers all over the world join together to take and deliver professional portraits to people in their communities who might not otherwise have the opportunity to have that experience. As of last year, 20,371 photographers and 32,299 volunteers have given more than 282,295 portraits in 62 different countries. Pretty inspiring, to say the least.

Just over a month ago, a group of Denton photographers started talking about trying to organize a Help-Portrait event here in Denton. We didn't have much time, but we've been really overwhelmed by the positive response and the number of people who signed up to volunteer their time and are thrilled to see it coming to life!

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What can Help-Portrait do for the Denton community?

This is our first year, and we're really excited to be working with the United Way (along with several other local organizations and groups) to find the families and individuals we'll be photographing. Denton Christian Preschool graciously offered their space to us to use on December 7th. An amazing group of hairstylists and makeup artists have signed up to volunteer their services and Sally Beauty Supply has donated all of our hair and makeup supplies. I think it's more than just providing hair and makeup, photographing them, and delivering prints, though. We want to really get to know these people and who they are. We want to invest in their lives and share a really great day with them.

Both Denton and photography mean a lot to me...So, to be able to give back to my community with something that I’ve been blessed with and by is a really humbling and beautiful thing.

Why are you excited about it?

I first heard about Help-Portrait a few years ago when I met Jeremy Cowart. I was really blown away by his work, but what really stood out was the heart he has for people. He's used his gifts to serve so many different people all over the world, and it was really inspiring to see such powerful images and stories. Both Denton and photography mean a lot to me, for reasons I can't even begin to describe. So, to be able to give back to my community with something that I've been blessed with and by is a really humbling and beautiful thing for me. And to see a group of people work so hard to make this happen in such a short amount of time is really inspiring. It's good to be reminded that the heart of Denton is truly built around our community and loving our neighbors.

A couple of us have already started making plans next year's Help-Portrait: Denton event. While we're keeping our numbers small this year, we hope to be able to rent a larger space in Denton and open the event up to the community. We'll be able to better plan for next year after this initial event, but we hope to be able to do things like provide clothing and food. Definitely some big dreams, but I have no doubt that we can make it happen.

What can we do to help?
We have around 30 people who have signed up to volunteer, but we still need sponsors to donate things like coffee, bottled water, and lunch for the people being photographed. We also desperately need photo paper, ink, and a sponsor to donate printing services for all of the forms we'll need to have beforehand. If you'd like to help sponsor the event, you can send a message to Sara ButtonOutside of that, the best thing you can do is stay tuned to the Help-Portrait: Denton Facebook page for updates regarding our event next year.

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How would you describe your own, personal, style of photography?

I could answer this in several different ways. My work has really changed over the years and leans towards being more artistic, emotional, and non-traditional - with a bit of editorial, fashion photography, and photojournalism mixed in. I feel like my style, at it's core, has more to do with the way that I interact with and get to know the people I work with and less to do with things like post-processing and composition, although that plays an important part as well. I want the people I photograph to feel like I've given them a true and honest image that accurately communicates who they are in a creative and flattering way. Being able to capture emotion and romance is a big part of the job description when you're a wedding photographer, and it took me a few years to recognize how important it was to really learn how to direct and communicate when you're shooting. I'm definitely still learning, so I hope that my style will continue to evolve and that my work will continue to improve as a result.

What’s your favorite non-human subject to shoot in Denton?

As strange as it sounds, I'm really in love with the buildings, particularly the older ones. (Well, it's a toss-up between that and my cat, Zelda. Or the tacos that I'm constantly craving.) In all seriousness, the architecture and character of the city stayed the same here for a long time, and I'm sad that I wasn't camera-happy back when the Fry Street and downtown areas were still intact. There's an old stone house that was built in the early 1940s in my neighborhood. I grew up going over there after school when I was a kid, so it's a bit of a landmark for me. If you follow me on Instagram, it shows up in my feed on a regular basis because I love the way the light reflects off it when the sun is setting throughout the year. The city is getting ready to tear it down soon and I've gone into a mild depression over it. I love all of the change that has come to Denton over the past few years, but I'm a sentimental person and I hate that a lot of the places that have made Denton "home" for me are slowly disappearing. That's why I'm trying to photograph as many of them as I possibly can before they're all gone.

Tell us one of your top-secret Denton shooting locations!

Never! Just kidding... We all know that places like the square have been photographed 20 million times. That part of Denton holds a special place in my heart and a large number of my clients request that we shoot there, so I just look for the spots that I don't see used in the work of other local photographers. I grew up visiting the old post office just off the square on an almost-daily basis. About a year ago, I was shooting an anniversary session for a couple who were in town from NYC and decided, on a whim, to pose them standing in the big windows there. I've had several couples request it since, and it's kind of become one of my favorite little spots to shoot.

A new favorite is Rasoi, the Indian food restaurant on Avenue C. I just shot an awesome portrait session with Horace Bray, a member of the One O'Clock Lab Band, there a couple of weeks ago! Such a random location - it's not a place you'd normally think of as an ideal spot to shoot portraits after dark, but we met up there around 9:00 PM one night and it was perfect! Bonus: we got to eat delicious samosas after shooting. Again, I try to find places that are unique to Denton, but that aren't over-used. My locations are typically right in front of all of us, so there's not really a "secret" one - I just try to push myself to view and capture Denton with a voice that is unique to the area in order to keep my job interesting, fun, and fresh. It's kind of like a scavenger hunt.

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What’s the weirdest thing in your camera bag right now?

I just cleaned it out two days ago, but I pulled out a handful of small rocks and a fishing lure from a recent camping trip, a Barbie shoe and a plastic lizard, a tiny jade owl that a friend brought me from Alaska, and some Halloween candy. My camera bag goes pretty much everywhere with me (and I'm a mom), so I'm always finding random things in the side pocket.

What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you while shooting a wedding?

I recently shot this awesome circus-themed wedding in Boyd, Texas. The couple actually paid for a live monkey to hang out and pose for photographs with guests during the reception and I got to hold him towards the end of the night! He definitely took a second to paw through my hair, found something, and turned it into a snack. So, I've been groomed by a monkey while working and I have a photo to prove it! Not many people get to experience something like that in their workplace. Best job ever.

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To whom do you look for inspiration as far as art or photography goes?

As far as wedding photographers go, Andria Lindquist is my favorite. Hands down. She captures love and emotion in such a beautifully artistic and creative way and I'm really looking forward to the day when I get to meet her and hopefully hire her. Annie Leibovitz, Noa Azoulay, Tara Whitney, Jeremy Cowart, and Sue Bryce are all favorite photographers of mine and they all create really unique and interesting art - you'll rarely see anything boring or "safe" in their portfolios.

There are a lot of local artists and photographers whose work I really admire, as well. I have quite a few large paintings by Rachael Steinberg hanging in my home, and I am blown away every time I see something new that she's created. Her use of color has been a huge inspiration to me in the way I shoot for several years now.

I really love the way both Thorpe Griner and Stephen Masker approach shooting landscape and travel photography - it's not really my niche, so my jaw drops regularly when either of them posts something new from a recent trip. I go to both of them regularly for advice or opinions on my photos before anyone else sees them because I have so much respect for the way they both shoot. Jessica Hume  shoots portraits in the studio and does some really awesome live music stuff, but she does it in a really fresh way - I often notice new things when I go back and look at her photographs more than once. I also recently met a new media major from UNT who is doing some really interesting things with video and sound - Olivia Brown. I'd love to have the chance to collaborate with her on a project of some sort in the future. I'm looking forward to meeting more artists like Olivia because I'm constantly inspired by what the people around me in this town are doing - whether it's an artist or a jazz musician or a photographer.

P.S. I really love seeing the photography on WDDI every week! I get hungry every time you guys review a restaurant.

What’s your dream photo-shoot?

Two things tie for the number one spot on my photography bucket list. One: I would love to shoot a destination wedding in Ireland. I want to see the world. Someone make it happen and I'll hook you up! Two: I would like to take Jay-Z's portrait in front of the place where he lived as a child in Brooklyn. It's a little random, I know... but I'm fascinated by the fact that our environments shape us as people early on - which becomes evident in every artist's work, and I think that would make for a really powerful portrait. Also, I'm kind of a superfan.

Thanks, Shaina!

 

Help-Portrait: Denton will be held on December 7, 2013 at Denton Christian Preschool at Erwin Hall, which is attached to First Presbyterian Church of Denton located at 1114 W. University Drive in Denton, Texas from 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM. If you can help or need more info, please contact Sara Button

You can check out more of Shaina Sheaff's photography on her website or Facebook page